Thursday, February 27, 2020

FTC Annual Report Offers a Contrasting Perspective to Calls for a New Privacy Agency

On more than one occasion I have written pieces for the Free State Foundation arguing that online privacy oversight should take place exclusively at the federal level. More specifically, at the FTC, the expert agency with substantial institutional knowledge regarding, and experience with, this topic.

Members of both the House and the Senate, meanwhile, have drafted legislation that would transfer FTC authority to an entirely new agency. Two Representatives from Silicon Valley, Zoe Lofgren (D) and Anna Eshoo (D), introduced the Online Privacy Act in November 2019. As I described at the time, that bill would create specific consumer privacy rights (including the authority to access, correct, delete, and transfer personal data) and empower new bureaucracy, the independent Digital Privacy Agency, to enforce its provisions.

More recently, on February 13, 2020, Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) unveiled the Data Protection Act. The Data Protection Act would establish, and transfer authority previously held by the FTC to, the Data Protection Agency. Specifically, this new independent agency would "have all powers and duties under the Federal privacy laws to prescribe rules, issue guidelines, or to conduct studies or issue reports mandated by such laws, that were vested in the [FTC]…."

The FTC released a report on February 25, 2020, that serves as reminder of the important role that it plays. The Privacy & Data Security Update: 2019 offers an overview of the agency's enforcement efforts over the course of last year. A few highlights:
  • A $5.7 million settlement with – now known as TikTok – regarding charges that it collected children's personal data in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA);
  • A $170 million penalty for YouTube and Google as a result of alleged violations of COPPA;
  • A settlement with Equifax, totaling as high as $700 million, in response to a data breach affecting nearly 150 million people; and
  • 13 enforcement actions against companies for allegedly making false promises relating to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Five Years After the FCC's Ill-Fated Title II Order, Broadband is Thriving

Five years ago today, the Wheeler/Obama FCC adopted its Title II Order, subjecting broadband Internet access services to public utility-like regulation. The Commission's imposition of Title II regulation was a heavy-handed reversal of the prior bipartisan consensus policy favoring a light-touch regulation of broadband Internet services. When the 2015 Title II Order was adopted, pro-regulatory Commissioners and advocates claimed that stringent new rules were absolutely necessary to save free speech on the Internet. And Title II regulation was touted as the only way to prevent the rise of broadband service "fast-lanes" that would divide the Internet between haves and have-nots. 

Thankfully, under Chairman Ajit Pai's leadership, the FCC changed course and repealed Title II regulation in the 2018 Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The RIFO concluded that Title II regulation actually harmed broadband investment and innovation, slowing deployment to all Americans. Now, five years after the Title II Order's adoption, none of the horror stories about broadband service provider speech suppression or fast lanes and slow lanes have materialized. 

Broadband subscribers are better off than they were five years ago, without Title II regulation. Since the repeal of the Title II Order, broadband investment has improved, wireless and wireline subscribers have risen, speeds have increased, data traffic has dramatically grown, and deployments of next-generation networks such as 5G wireless and gigabit wireline are underway. For more on this, see my September 2019 Perspectives from FSF Scholars paper, "Resurgence in Broadband Deployment Vindicates FCC's Pro-Investment Policies." And for a more recent look at the state of the broadband Internet services in this restored light-touch regulatory environment, see my Perspectives paper, "The Communications Market at 2020: The Competitiveness of Video, Mobile, and Fixed Broadband."

Monday, February 24, 2020

Come Hear Deputy AG Rosen's Keynote Address at FSF's Twelfth Annual Conference

The Free State Foundation will hold its Twelfth Annual Telecom Policy Conference on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, 8:30 AM to 2:45 PM at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. 

This year's conference includes a keynote address by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. 

Responses to Mr. Rosen's address will be provided by Alden Abbott, General Counsel at the Federal Trade Commission, and also by Thomas Johnson, General Counsel at the Federal Communications Commission.

Other distinguished keynote speakers and panelists have been added to the Conference's lineup. Be sure to register to attend. 



Friday, February 21, 2020

New Book: "Modernizing Copyright Law for the Digital Age"

In Modernizing Copyright Law for the Digital Age: Constitutional Foundations for Reform, Randolph May and Seth Cooper connect constitutional principles and historical insights to recommendations for updating U.S. copyright law to meet the challenges of the Digital Age.

Copyright owners and copyright-intensive industries are vital engines of prosperity in our Digital Age economy. But current U.S. copyright law fails to protect adequately copyrighted works from infringement enabled by modern-day digitization and Internet connectivity. The law needs updating to curb the billions in economic losses caused annually by bad actors in America and abroad.

In reforms grounded in constitutional principles, Modernizing Copyright Law for the Digital Age addresses areas such as international trade, public contracts, private contracts, compulsory licensing and rate regulation, antitrust, and so-called moral rights. This timely book details steps that Congress should consider for updating copyright policy in hot-topic areas, including music royalties, Copyright Office reform, civil enforcement, criminal enforcement, and international protections.

The book is now available from Amazon here or from Carolina Academic Press here.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

US Telecom Report for 2020 Spotlights Booming Broadband

Earlier this month, US Telecom released its report "Industry Metrics and Trends 2020: The Broadband Boom." Among the report's key projections for 2020:
  • 84% of U.S. households (109 million) will subscribe to fixed broadband by the end of 2020;
  • Wireless will account for 79% of voice connections, compared to 4% for traditional phone lines;
  • 6% of U.S. households will use traditional phone lines, while 65% will be wireless-only and 29% will be Internet-based voice service, mostly from cable operators; and
  • Traditional switched telephone subscriptions will be 24 million, down from 186 million in 2000. 
US Telecom's report data and projections regarding the decline of switched access lines and the concomitant rise of wireless and VoIP service are particularly striking, yet not at all surprising in light of trends over the last several years. 

A public policy implication of such dramatic declines in traditional voice services should be the elimination of the FCC's unbundling and resale regulations. The Commission has an ongoing proceeding in which it proposes to remove certain unbundling mandates. For more, see my February 13 Perspectives from FSF Scholars paper, "FCC Should Go Full Speed Ahead in Removing Unbundling Regulations."   

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Cisco Report Looks Ahead to 2023's Internet

On February 18, Cisco released its "Annual Internet Report," which includes a forecast of mobile, Wi-Fi and fixed broadband up through 2023. Among the Cisco report's interesting projections for North America in 2023: 
  • 345 million Internet users (92% of regional population), up from 328 million (90%) in 2018. 
  • 329 million mobile users (88%), up from 313 million (86%) in 2018. 
  • 5.0 billion networked devices/connections, up from 3.0 billion in 2018. 
  • 25% of all networked devices will be mobile-connected and 75% will be wired or connected over Wi-Fi. 
  • Average fixed broadband speed will reach 141.8 Mbps, a 2.5-fold growth from 2018 (56.6 Mbps). 
  • Average mobile connection speed will reach 58.4 Mbps, a 2.7-fold growth from 2018 (21.6 Mbps). 
  • Average Wi-Fi speeds from mobile devices will reach 110 Mbps, a 2.3-fold growth from 2018 (46.9 Mbps).

Interesting data points and projections concerning video viewing, cybersecurity, and more are also contained in the latest installment of Cisco's report.

Monday, February 17, 2020

George Washington: Pro-Copyright

Today, President's Day, the U.S. government observes George Washington's birthday. No doubt most people are aware of many of the accomplishments of the Father of our Nation. Yet comparatively few are aware that George Washington was pro-copyright. As President, he signed the first federal law protecting creative works – the Copyright Act of 1790. Free State Foundation President Randolph May and I discussed this and more in our 2016 Perspectives from FSF Scholars paper, "George Washington: Indispensable to Intellectual Property Rights in America."

Expect to hear more on copyright-related topics in 2020, as this month marks the publication of our new book with Carolina Academic Press, titled "Modernizing Copyright Law for the Digital Age: Constitutional Foundations for Reform." Hot off the press, our book is now available for order at CAP's website.